New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: February, 2016

Film Noir Instrumentalists Big Lazy and Italian Singer Julia Patinella Haunt the Crowd at Barbes

As the story goes, Julia Patinella‘s first live appearance at Barbes lasted for about two bars.worth of music “But what two bars!” said Big Lazy frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich, as he introduced the singer early in the band’s set there last month. The two first met in the wee hours there. She’d done what a lot of musicians do when it’s past midnight and the bands are finished: she broke out her guitar and took a stab at entertaining her friends with a couple of Italian folk songs, completely unplugged.

Uh uh. Like a lot of venues, Barbes has a strict curfew on music, and they enforce it. But unlike the bartender who did the enforcing, Ulrich was entranced. Being a devotee of Italian music and heavily influenced by both Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone, Ulrich asked Patinella if she’d sing with the band. The result turned out to be a couple of hauntingly affecting, nocturnally lilting numbers, the first with Romany tinges, the second a playful commentary on how women deserve just as much fun in the sack as guys do, complete with sardonically low-key orgasmic vocalese. And as comfortable as she was with this material, maybe considering her Sicilian heritage, this was something of a departure for her since she’s focused mostly on flamenco lately. Years from now, when Patinella is playing big stages around the globe, she can tell the world that she was discovered by Big Lazy.

For their part, the iconic noir instrumental trio hung back with a moody jangle to match Patinella’s nuance. Their own material was just as dynamic, and considerably darker, as you would expect from this creepy crew. Their show on New Year’s Day here featured a lot of highway themes and big-sky ambience: this set was a particularly murderous one. Bassist Andrew Hall used his bow more than usual, painting pitchblend swaths underneath Ulrich’s lurid chromatics, lingering blues phrases drenched in reverb, and the occasional savage flurry of tremolo-picking. It’s a mystery how this guy manages not to break strings.

Mystery was the theme for the rest of the show, part horror surf, part crime jazz, part shapeshifting cinematic sweep. Drummer Yuval Lion seemed more amped than usual as the band stabbed and pulsed through a cover of Piazzolla’s Pulsacion #5, then later the surrealistic sprint Princess Nicotine – a new theme for an old silent short from the 20s. Otherwise, the menace was relentless, through the slinky shadows of Don’t Cross Myrtle, Swampesque and one of the creepiest songs of the night, Influenza, which Ulrich wryly pondered about renaming. If dark sounds are your thing, Big Lazy are your band. Their monthly Friday night Barbes residency continues this Friday, March 4 at 10. T’hey’re also at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint on March 14 at around 9 on what might be the years’s best twinbill, with similarly macabre, surfy, shapeshifting soundtrack instrumentalists Beninghove’s Hangmen.

Marianne Dissard’s Cibola Gold Distills Some of Her Most Shattering Songs

More than anything else, French singer Marianne Dissard’s new greatest-hits collection, Cibola Gold – streaming at Bandcamp – is all about solace. Betrayal, disappointment and fullscale heartbreak are frequent themes, and for anyone who’s suffered any of that (hasn’t everyone?), Dissard feels your pain. It’s a potently plaintive playlist for cold nights at 3 AM when there’s only a single glass left in the magnum and the ghosts on the perimeter are closing in.

It opens with a funny song and closes with a harrowing one. In between, it documents the career of one of the world’s most consistently compelling songwriters since 2008. She started out looking back toward new wave, then went deep into desert rock. Since then, Dissard has been just as eclectic, ranging from the towering, angst-driven art-rock of her 2014 masterpiece The Cat. Not Me, to the stripped-down noir of last year’s live-in-the-studio release, Cologne-Vier Takes. Beyond the thirteen newly remastered tracks, the album comes with a lavish, full-color booklet documenting Dissard’s well-documented travels, from her native country to the Arizona desert  – where she famously collaborated with Giant Sand and Sergio Mendoza – and eventually full circle.

Like Balkan singer Eva Salina, recently covered here, Dissard’s vocals transcend the limits of language. While her lyrics, mostly in French, are full of double entendres and clever wordplay, her powers of expression are such that anyone can get the gist if not the complete picture of where she’s coming from, emotionally speaking. For example, her coyly deadpan delivery on the scampering Django jazz-flavored Les Draps Sourds. In French, “sourd” means “deaf,” but it also means “hammered,” as in having had too much bordeaux. So the tale of the two lovers beneath the sheets, interrupted, takes on new dimensions, whether or not you speak French.

The One and Only, with its insistent, echoey Rhodes piano and purist blend of soul and blues, sends a joyously breathy shout-out to Dissard’s old Tucson stomping ground. She takes an animatedly anguished approach to the ache and abandonment of Election over an insistently pulsing piano-pop arrangement. Cayenne refers not to the quasi-narcotic qualities of capsicum but to its lingering burn, and all that it represents, Dissard’s mutedly wounded contralto mingling with a gently pointillistic, Chelsea Girl-style acoustic backdrop. The metaphorically-loaded images of the swaying folk-rock of Les Confettis are much the same.

With La Tortue (The Turtle), the door opens wide and the darkness, always hinted at, pours in, with more than a hint of hip-hop in Dissard’s half-spoken nightmare imagery over waves of strings and incisive neoromantic piano. The whisperingly conspiratorial ranchera art-rock of Almas Perversas (Perverse Souls) is more allusively troubled. Then Dissard offers a mysteriously seductive groove with the sunbaked Booker T psych-soul groove of Trop Expres (rough translation: Too Obvious).

Pomme (The Apple) expands on the William Tell fable, chamber-pop gospel as Roger Waters might do it, with an irresistible woodwind chart and similarly tasty piano. La Peau Du Lait (Porcelain Skin) blends new wave bounce and dancing echoes of vintage vaudevillian chanson, with one of Dissard’s trademark clever rhyme schemes. Likewise, It’s Love, a mashup of new wave and angst-tinged artsy pop: Botanica in a rare, lighter moment comes to mind.

Un Gros Chat (Fat Cat), more or less the centerpiece of The Cat. Not Me is a chilling art-rock anthem, again bringing to mind Botanica as well as Aladdin Sane-era Bowie, with a rare verse or two in English from Dissard. The album ends with the whispery, elegaic Am Letzen, a shatteringly wintry depiction of wee-hours emotional destitution on the final morning of the year. Everybody else is probably getting stoked for the evening’s festivities: Dissard’s drained, despondent narrator only leaves the apartment so she can come back to it.

This album fits with Dissard’s current retrospective mode: when she isn’t touring, she’s back in France, with a memoir in the works. From an oldschool media perspective, albums of previously released material aren’t typically included among critics’ picks of the year’s best releases, but if there’s any one that deserves to be an exception, this is it. Pour that last glass, stare down the demons and let Dissard’s wise, knowing murmur pull you off the ledge.

Raquel Vidal & the Monday Men Bring Their Jangly Paisley Underground Noir to the Upper West

“This song is about not questioning things,” Raquel Vidal explained to the crowd as she took the stage last Friday night at Desmond’s. “Too many people do that.”

Then the darkly cinematic songwriter and her band the Monday Men – David Hollander on lead guitar, Seth Masten on bass and Todd Guidice on drums – launched into a sarcastically jangling, minor-key paisley underground groove. “Can’t cook a meal so I hired a chef,” Vidal intoned in her deadpan alto, Hollander spiraling through an all-too-brief solo. Although her main axe is keyboards, Vidal is also a strong rhythm guitarist, playing up in the mix with an incisive, reverbtoned clang.

Next on the bill was the brooding, Lynchian, bolero-flavored Leather Trunk, a showcase for Vidal’s cool, distantly menacing vocals and a casually bloodcurdling solo from Hollander. It wouldn’t have been out of place in the Bliss Blood catalog. From there they went to a steady backbeat while the band kept the ominous mood going through Black Cat, Hollander building a vintage 60s Chicago blues lounge ambience with his simmering riffage.

The dusky, propulsively shuffling murder ballad after that brought to mind both Eilen Jewell and Steve Wynn, especially when Hollander cut loose again, thisclose to unhinged, keeping the suspense at redline with his steady volleys of chromatics and blues licks. Then the band swung and pounced through a grimly oldtime gospel-flavored number sung by Guidice.

Vidal took over the mic again, voicing a bittersweet optimism, a tribute to the late bloomers among us, as the guitars built from uneasily lingering. clave-driven ambience to a fiery crescendo. Then Guidice sang Put the Hammer Down, its portrait of somebody close to the edge contrasting with a warmly twangy, C&W-tinged backdrop. They closed with the Stonesy, fearlessly political Be the Change That You Wanna Become, an apt choice for the Bernie Sanders era.

Raquel Vidal & the Monday Men hail from the Hudson Valley but play here frequently. It’s too bad that Lakeside Lounge is gone, since they would have fit right in there. Their next gig is Friday night, March 4 at 11 PM at the West End Lounge, 855 West End Ave just south of 102nd. The venue’s webpage leaves it a mystery as to whether there’s a cover or not.

Eva Salina Radically and Hauntingly Reinvents Balkan Icon Saban Bajramovic’s Cult Classics

Balkan singer Eva Salina‘s new album Lema Lema – streaming at Spotify – is a radical achievement. That it would take an American woman to bring the songs of Serbian Romany icon Šaban Bajramović to a global audience speaks volumes about how undeservedly obscure he is beyond the Romany diaspora…and also about Eva Salina’s revolutionary vision. CDBaby has both digital and physical copies.

There’s really nobody in western music quite like Bajramović – he’s sort of a Balkan counterpart to Hank Williams, but also Al Green and Bob Marley. Dating from the 1960s, his colorful songs spoke for generations of Romany people. who continue to experience disenfranchisement around the globe.

One of Eva Salina’s most ambitious moves here is not to make any grammatical adjustments for gender in Bajramović’s original Romanes-language lyrics (just as another elite singer, Mary Lee Kortes, did when she covered Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks). While the bristling minor keys, edgy chromatics and tricky meters of these songs may be exotic to most American audiences, the nuance and poignancy of Eva Salina’s richly emotive vocals transcends the limits of language: sometimes tender, sometimes coy, often harrowingly plaintive. Being versed in the language as well as the music, having immersed herself in both since childhood, no doubt helps immensely. She and her longtime accordionist Peter Stan have a couple of gigs coming up; March 3 at 8, they’re at Barbes, then the following evening they’re at the American Folk Art Museum at 5:30 PM.

The band on the album comprise the creme de la creme of New York-based Balkan talent. Along with the frontwoman and the accordionist, there’s trumpeter Frank London, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, multi-keyboardist Patrick Farrell, ubiquitous percussionist Deep Singh and tubaist Ron Caswell. There’s also a blazing brass section led by famed Serbian trumpeter Ekrem Mamutović.

Akaja Rat sets the stage, a lithely dancing, sunny, glisteningly precise nmber spiced with rat-a-tat brass, wry synth texurres and a shuffling, straight-up dancefloor beat. Boza Limunada opens with a blaze of brass from London and fellow trumpeter John Carlson, an anthemic, bittersweet, pulsingly tricky launching pad for Eva Salina’s coolly enigmatic low register. The band reinvents Djelo Djelo as somber, accordion-fueled Abbey Road Beatles art-rock under Eva Salina’s uneasily soaring melismas

Her darkly torchy approach to the plushly propulsive, noirish Hovavni Romni is spine-tingling.Singh’s slow, misterioso groove, moody low brass, Farrell’s spiraling synth and Seabrook’s dramatic David Gilmour-esque accents provide a haunting backdrop for the frontwoman’s  similarly suspenseful vocals throughout Jek Jek Dešujek, part lullaby, part warning. By contrast, the album’s title track blends staccato Balkan dancefloor chromatics and trippily twinkling art-rock under a pillowy vocal.

Singh’s leapfrogging beats in tandem with the brass adds more than a hint of bhangra to Koj Si Gola Roma, which takes on more of a Balkan reggae feel as it bounces along. They do O Zvonija Marena as a stately, understated, mysterious tango for accordion and vocals. From there they pick up the pace with with the track that may be the most familiar to Balkan music fans, Pijanica: the subtle keyboard touches under the slowly building brass conflagration are as amusing as they are psychedelic.

The final cut is I Barval Pudela, recast as blazing Romany rock:. imagine an artsier Gogol Bordello with one of the world’s most spinetingling singers out front. Spin one of this decade’s most exhilarating albums and discover two Balkan icons, one from the past and the other who promises to be one in the future.

The Jack Quartet Play the Darkest Show of the Year

What was it like to hear the Jack Quartet play Georg Friedrich Haas’ In Iij. Noct.at the Austrian Cultural Forum in midtown last night in more-or-less total darkness, as the composer intended? On the most prosaic level, the ensemble performed it in stereo, mirroring how the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony incorporated the audience into their stage plot for their performances of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony earlier this year. In this case, cello and viola (Kevin McFarland and John Pickford Richards) were behind the audience, violins (Christopher Otto and Ari Streisfeld) onstage, with only the occasional twinkle from a tiny overhead light (a CO2 alarm, maybe) and a couple of orange neon fire door lights, muted and obscured from much of the sold-out crowd. In any case, it was impossible to see the performers. Were they able to make out a shadow or two in the audience? That depends on how sharp their eyesight might be.

The performance was playful, and fun, and gripping, and full of surprises, and harrowing in places. The quartet, who’ve played it a couple of dozen times, at least, have it more or less in their fingers, although the score is mostly improvised, based on a series of riffs and a brief quote from Gesualdo which surfaced about three-quarters of the way in. What was most stunning was how meticulously the group made the slow slide downward, then upward, from basic major to minor triadic harmony and then back again during one long sequence. There were flickering, irresistibly fun hide-and-seek interludes, lots of austere, acidic atmospherics that required extended technique to sustain challenging overtones and harmonics, and a couple of chillingly insistent codas that reminded of Julia Wolfe.

One might think that hearing it in such relative sensory deprivation would be a solitary experience, but that turned out to be 180 degrees the opposite. Being in the dark enhanced the sense of everybody being in the same boat. Basic questions of urban diplomacy quickly posed themselves. Why didn’t that narcissist with her paroxysms and grossness just stay home instead of sharing her sickness? Does an oniony lunchtime falafel carry through the air like the homey scent of hand sanitizer coming in on the left? If anything, an experience like this reinforces how much a little compassion, or just plain common courtesy, really make a difference at a public event.

As far as hearing the music in near pitch-blackness, we’ve all done that, at least those of us whose windows face a shaftway rather than the street. If you’ve ever drifted off to sleep with something wafting from the boombox or the turntable rather than from the glow of a phone or a laptop, with, say, a cat or a girlfriend nestled in your arms, this was somewhat more impersonal but required no less attention to the consequences of disturbing the peace.

The Austrian Cultural Forum puts on a lot of adventurous shows like this. There’s another tomorrow night, February 26 at 7:30 PM at the Czech Center 4th floor ballroom at 321 E 73rd St. featuring works by Haas performed by members of the Talea Ensemble, including the world premiere of a piece for solo trumpet, dedicated to the memory of Eric Garner, to be played by Gareth Flowers.

A Darkly Smashing Return to Form and a Jazz Standard Stand by Pianist Alfredo Rodriguez

Cuban-born pianist and Quincy Jones protege Alfredo Rodriguez made waves with his 2012 debut album Sounds of Space, His latest and third release, Tocororo – streaming at Spotify – is a welcome return to that record’s juxtaposition of terse Afro-Cuban and broodingly lustrous third-stream sounds. Rodriguez is leading a trio with bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Henry Cole plus chanteuse Ganavya Doraiswamy through a three-night stand at the Jazz Standard starting on March 3, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $30, which may seem steep, but remember, the Jazz Standard has no minimums (although they do have good food if you feel like splurging).

The album takes its name from the Cuban national bird, which does not survive in captivity: subtext, anyone? Rodriguez opens it with Chan Chan, a gorgeously creepy George Crumb-like inside-the-piano theme lowlit by some absolutely bloodcurdling bass clarinet. Yemaya veers elegantly between jaggedly insistent Afro-Caribbean intenstiy and enveloping lushness,building with soaring vocalese from Doraiswamy and the duo Ibeyi. Rodriguez’s hard-hitting, music-box-like precision livens bassist Richard Bona’s generically vampy Raices; the bassist also contributes an easygoing cha-cha that they reprise at the end of the album.

Ginaterias spirals with a wickedly catchy intensity that’s part flamenco, part suspenseful phantasmagoria and part Bach. Speaking of which, there’s a wryly syncopated version of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring a bit later on.

The album’s title track mashes up jackhammer latin swing, brooding neoromanticism and anxious Indian classical motives, sung with an aptly dynamic, meticulous intenstiy by Doraiswamy. There are two numbers by haunting Lebanese-French trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf here: the first, Venga La Esperanza is a wistful title theme of sorts. The second, Kaleidoscope, is the album’s best track, a propulsively dynamic blend of Middle Eastern classical, Indian carnatic, neoromantic and balmy cinematic styles featuring some strikingly ominous microtonal trumpet from its composer.

Sabanas Blanca is a surreal, unexpected departure into an avant garde take on trip-hop. Adios Nonino, the classic Piazzolla elegy, rocks a lot harder than other artists typically do it, at least to begin, which underscores the plaintiveness that follows. And Meteorite turns on a dime from breathless cinematics to lively pointillisms, then a crushing, angst-fueled dirge. The not-so-subtle message here, other than “Free my people!” seems to be, what can’t this guy play? Answer? Probably nothing. It’ll be fun to see where he lands when he eventually sorts all this out.

Saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock Brings Her Enigmatic Improvisational Intensity to the Jazz Gallery Saturday Night

Saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock’s latest album Ubatuba opens with a series of misty, foghorn-like pulses featuring…a tuba. That’s Dan Peck playing the big thing. Which is a red herring. Laubrock builds a sense of angst and menace that recurs throughout the record’s half-dozen expansive tracks, streaming at Spotify. You could call this free jazz noir. She and her quintet are playing the album release show on February 27, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM at the Jazz Gallery, Cover is $22

Tom Rainey’s drums, flickering cymbals and hardware add cardio to the vascular as the album’s opening track, Any Breathing Organism, slowly coalesces; Laubrock enters on tenor sax with a strikingly bright flourish as Rainey gives her the red carpet cymbal treatment in the background. With its tantalizingly enigmatic textures, much of this ten-minute tone poem of sorts, a launching pad for leaping and diving sax (Laubrock joined by Tim Berne on alto), is closer to Japanese folk music or indie classical than it is straight-up jazz.

The band picks up the pace with a restrained suspense as the slow, tersely melodic exchanges of Homo Diluvii get underway: Ben Gerstein’s trombone-fueled doppler cadenzas enhance the Lynchian mood up to a chatty go-round where everything goes more or less haywire. Rainey’s shadowy explorations fuel the creepy/fluttery dichotomy as Hiccups begins, Laubrock and Gerstein taking separate corners, building to an insistent, minimalist pulse that eventually comes undone as it rises. The way Laubrock orchestrates that heartbeat up through the octaves, and into a fullscale attack, is clever and fun. From there the group winds their way down to a long carefree but closely conversational free round.

Hall of Mirrors comes together slowly out of that with steady, minimalist exchanges and uneasy close harmonies…and then it’s over. Any Many opens as a squalling free jazz pastiche over diesel-engine tuba with deft polyrhythmic flickers, and a droll are-we-tired-yet false ending. The epic final cut, Hypnic Jerk comes across like a Burroughsian cut-up take on a more trad postbop sound, the band eventually meeting in the middle with a jaunty, shuffling flair before they wind it down to hazy atmospherics, then back to another frenzy. Those who need a steady 4/4 swing beat may find much of this challenging, but it’s a clinic in close listening and good teamwork from a crew who have a lot of fun blazing a path through knotty terrain with their eyes closed.

Tim Kuhl’s St. Helena Build a Sound to Get Lost In at the Ace Hotel

Drummer Tim Kuhl‘s group St. Helena play some of the trippiest, most cinematic music of any band in New York. Current-day film composers from Angelo Badalamenti to Johann Johannsson seem to be an influence, as are minimalism, indie classical and jazz. The band are wrapping up their weekly February residency with a show at around 10 PM on February 28 in the comfortably spacious, lowlit lobby at the Ace Hotel (the old Breslin apartments building) at 20 W 29th St. just east of Broadway. There’s no cover, and there’s a laid-back bar just to the right of the elevators if you’d like a drink.

Their show this past Sunday was hypnotic, and enveloping, and absolutely entrancing in places. Kuhl is your typical elite drummer, with his fingers in a million pies – he’s also a jazz bandleader, when he’s not on tour with any number of rock bands, or playing a Manhattan residency as a member of folk noir crew Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons. This time out, Kuhl led the band from behind the kit, bolstered by Big Lazy’s Yuval Lion on syndrums, Jesske Hume on bass, Ryan Mackstaller on guitar and keys and Rick Parker on trombone, keys and mixer. There were also a couple of guest vocalists, one who did a surreallistically insistent spoken word cameo, working in tandem with the band to create a Lynchian newschool beat-jazz atmosphere.

What this band does live is what most other atmospheric acts would use electronics for – which is a big reason why they’re so interesting to watch. Midway through the set, Kuhl matched precision with raw power as he built a polar vortex of white noise with his cymbals, later employing a scrap heap worth of iron shakers for a creepy, ghostly effect. Rather than using a loop pedal, Hume took a tricky repetitive riff in 5/4 and played it slowly, over and over, with a precision to match the drums: no easy task.

The show followed a dynamic arc, slowly rising and then descending. Mackstaller built toward a twinkling fanfare with his echoey, minimalist lines as Kuhl slowly rolled out of a quasi-trip-hop groove toward a shuffling march beat. From there they worked a steady, slowly strolling 10/4 rhythm colored with warmly resonant, pastoral washes from Mackstaller’s guitar and looming, distantly ominous foghorn phrases from Parker’s trombone. Once again, Kuhl shifted meters so subtly that it wasn’t noticeable til it actually happened.

They picked things up with a dreampop-tinged postrock mood piece, again alluding to trip-hop but not quite going there. Then they brought things down with a surrealistically tremoloing sci-fi waltz of sorts before picking up the pace with what seemed to be a tongue-in-cheek, rhythmically shifting take on a New Orleans second-line bounce. Clanking prison-cell sonics contrasted with ghostly stairstepping bass amid the swirl as the show went on. They closed with a broodingly wistful, Lynchian theme and then a nebulously crescendoing motorik groove. No doubt there will be just as many trance-inducing flavors flickering in the shadows here this coming weekend.

A Tortured Lyrical Masterpiece and a Friday Night Album Release Show by Jagged Leaves

Back in 2004, hauntingly lyrical punk/metal group the Larval Organs were one of New York’s hottest bands. They’d just released their second brilliant ep and frontman Dan Penta – who seemed to change his stage name every month or so – was at the top of his unhinged game as avatar for a million alienated, tortured souls. Then the band’s lead guitarist moved away. After that, they played a few shows and then pretty much disintegrated. Since that time, Penta has become more and more elusive a presence here but has remained one of the world’s most criminally underappreciated songwriters. No one mines the darkest corners of the human psyche with more insight, and gallows humor, and surrealistic expertise.

After the Larval Organs, he led an austerely elegant chamber pop unit called Hearth, when he wasn’t playing solo as Cockroach Bernstein or collaborating with his wife Erin Regan, who shares an avid cult following for her similarly brilliant, troubled songs. Happily, Penta has a new band, Jagged Leaves, and a new album, Nightmare Afternoon – streaming online – sort of a greatest hits collection from the past fifteen years or so. In a real stroke of serendipity, it reprises all but one of the tracks from that long out-of-print Larval Organs ep, although the best one, Mansion of Your Skull, is conspicuously absent. The band play the album release show on a rare good twinbill at Sidewalk on February 26 at around 9:30. Darkly gritty guitarist/singer Mallory Feuer’s power trio, the Grasping Straws, open the night beforehand at around 8:30.

Penta’s voice has deepened over the years, but he still basically just puts it out there, a caterwauling assault that draws a line straight back to grunge – expect honesty rather than polish here. The music here is acoustic-electric, a synthesis of pretty much everywhere he’s been. The album’s opening track is Low and Wet, Penta’s steady strums over a lush bed of strings; Regan’s high harmonies add subtlety and poignancy. They bring in a tremoloing funeral organ on the second chorus, setting the stage for the rest of the record.

City Parks, with its stark cello and Americana tinges, works familiar terrain: solitude and despondency in an urban milieu akin to “Grey skin like the hue of rotting meat that is cooking itself in the heat of its disease…I know that love is not some sort of prize, and that I am all alone on this ride…”

“Pack the ornaments and unstring the lights, we’ll be hanging ourselves from the tree tonight.” Penta wails in the broodingly waltzing Moth in the Sand – formerly titled Ziploc Torso. The cynicism is crushing in Sewn in the Seam, built around a Shoah metaphor: “In this winter holocaust, we warm ourselves around a burning cross…” The careening, horn-spiced Wizard Gardenia takes its title from a brand of air freshener:

With a Bible belt he stole her grace
That a rusted truckbed won’t erase
But drives the witches out of town
And they won’t come back to the judge’s crown…
If I never woke up for a thousand years
Would you still be blowing those Pyrex tears?

The centerpiece here is John Brown’s Grave. It’s one of the most harrowing rock songs ever written, end of story. The organ looms ominously under Penta’s drugged-out despondency

I want to break myself into my room
Pretend the lighting fixture is the moon
Pretend that we are not sketched on a page…
So let’s sleep late and drive all night
Into the diffused grey light
The pain inside, the scorching heat
I’m on the outside and I’ve been beat
And we go on to John Brown’s Grave
I’ve got a heartache the size of a Great Lake
She’s so faraway
I’m on the outside either way.

Fueled by a searing slide guitar hook, Devil Come Madness, the final Larval Organs track here, opens with twisted images of a psych ward:

In the padded room where I was born
With a million thorns to a black-eyed boy
From a cotton amnion with a cheap vinyl lining
How could I compete with the ancient gloom?
The choir shrieks, “Motherfucker, shoot!”
I did
They locked me up for being crazy

Images of disease, drunken sickness and sorcery gone awry flit through Never Been Born, the most Nirvana-influenced track here. The reverb guitar bounce of Home thinly masks Penta’s usual cynicism,. He shifts the hopeless wish-I’d-never-been-born point of view to an only slightly depressed fling from younger days over the hypnotic ambience of Powderkeg. And they reinvent the stomping Larval Organs tune Calm Me Down Penta intoning his grisly images over a Jesus & Mary Chain-style fuzztone waltz. The final cut, Death Is a Charm seems to be a stab at something approaching optimism. Much as the idea of a single best album of the year isn’t meant to imply that there’s any kind of competition between artists, or that there should be, there hasn’t been any collection of songs this good released this year. While it’s still early in the year, it looks like this is the cult classic of 2016. For Penta, it’s about time.

Kane Mathis Winds Up His Cutting-Edge Barbes Residency This Coming Saturday

Multi-instrumentalist Kane Mathis specializes in Malian music. He plays both traditional material and writes his own. He’s a fluent and often wildly spectacular player on both the spiky west African kora lute as well as the world’s coolest instrument, the oud. A member of reedman Matt Darriau’s wryly titled group Du’ud, he’s winding up his weekly Saturday residency this month at Barbes with a 6 PM show on the 27th. If hypnotically ringing African sounds or the magically resonant low-register tones of the oud are your thing, you’d be crazy to miss this.

Onstage, Mathis is all business. Having studied with griot masters on their home turf in Africa, he comes across as a very serious guy. As with most people who play Barbes residencies, Mathis has brought in a rotating cast of musicians each week. Last night’s show featured percussionist Rich Stein providing subtle variations on animately clip-clop Middle Eastern-inflected goblet drum grooves when he wasn’t delivering a hypnotically muted thud, playing with brushes on a couple of African drums. Meanwhile, six-string bassist Moto Fukushima – of similarly hypnotic hammered dulcimer instrumentalists House of Waters – matched Mathis with his own nimbly scampering low-register lines, adding a couple of brief, serpentine solos, rising from the lowest registers with a bristling, incisive, punchy tone.

Mathis opened the set with a small handful of kora tunes, then went to the oud, then returned to the kora to wind up the set on a dusky, psychedelic note. A couple of those circling epics were originals; Mathis also sang an unexpectedly upbeat traditional elegy, guest alto saxophonist Jessica Lurie adding balmy washes overhead.

When Mathis went to the oud midway through the show, he took the energy to redline, whether with thoughtfully crescendoing improvisational intros, hard-hitting chords and some pretty savage Dick Dale-style tremolo-picking. While Mathis’ compositions on that instrument draw deeply on African and Middle Eastern tradition, they also push the envelope as far as where the oud can go.

Besides the final show of this month’s Saturday Barbes residency – featuring his Indian classical/electroacoustic project with tabla player Roshni Samlal – Mathis is also playing here on March 24 as part of the venue’s second annual oud summit, a five-artist tribute to the late, great Haig Magnookian, one of the most soulful players ever to pick up the instrument in this city.